Iron Man 2 is a fast, gleaming, high energy action movie that only suffers because it also happens to be a derivative, gutless, shameless set-up for maybe half a dozen other franchises. Marvel comics characters, no longer imprisoned in their vogueing, small-change parallel universe, sashay past like Chas Licciardello at a press conference, along with surprise costumes and paraphernalia, referenced with all the subtlety of a Sex Shop infomercial, that (I'd say successfully) brought to mind a fistful of recent Variety articles. The director is Jon Favreau, who made Iron Man and was once strangled in an episode of The Sopranos. He directs a good movie, action-wise, but there is more than one hint that these guys are not so much being directed as being told where the lights and cameras are.
We get straight into a continuation of the character's story, introductory flashback and all. Everyone and their dog knows that Tony Stark's the man in the magical peace-making machine, and scream their appreciation at every opportunity he can orchestrate. Iron man is given the cinema icon treatment from the first rockin' riff, and it's an enjoyable world to spend some time in, so the well-tread plot didn't affect me beyond the occasional eye-roll. There are scenes that reminded me of Robocop 2 and The Matrix. Not suss, just there, and funny. But Jeff Bridges, who's character and performance are a major reason that the first film works so well, heart and psyche-wise, has been replaced with a talking work station and total suck Sam Rockwell, with Samuel L. Jackson dropping in from another movie. That hasn't been made yet.
Evil fixated weirdo number two is Mickey Rourke. Rourke reportedly went to a prison to do research for this part, and I am here to tell you that it just doesn't show at all. He's a prisoner for about forty seconds in the whole movie, and you just know he's going to rip off somebody's something and get the hell out. He shows that he is, in fact, an actor, in the opening scenes, and makes the effort of speaking what I'm assuming is Russian, but then it's all with the glares and the gnashing and looking very confident walking slowly away from explosions and preparing to hang large people. Speaking of gravity, Scarlett Johannson has some very cool, Earthbound fight scenes, and gets to look dangerously cute and bark the odd order before marching away. She flits in and out of the movie like the proverbial word from our sponsor. But it's like one of those classic commercials on YouTube.
I mentioned the storyline, which is accessibly predictable. But there are reasons to look past all that spruiking. The flying and battle action is first rate, though a party action scene is unnecessarily stupid. The actors are mostly amusing and into it (even Favreau, who handles his own beefed up role well, and provides the biggest laugh of the film). Yes, the snappy dialogue is grating from Paltrow, who's just no good at it – her answer-for-everything nagging is sit-com teen, not CEO. But Jackson, Cheadle and the Hopperesque Rockwell (surprise Avengers bad guy?) find their rhythm early and easily. Downey is hit and miss. His delivery is polar to Paltrow's, meaning he is the sentence-a-second tease to her machine gun whining. Sure, character flaws are normally brushed off with the chunks of scalp by the end of most any actioner you can name, but does one of Tony Stark's relatable chinks have to be psychotically theatrical confidence.
A generally agreeable scam.